Phase 1: Posing Real Questions

Updated 6 years 5 months ago

This is Phase 1, where I will be building some background knowledge on my Inquiry Project topic as well as posing some big questions that I will be answering during my stay in Xizhou. In the Phase 0, I chose my topic.

What I Already Know

Architecture is not only the way structures are built and look; each structure tells a story of history and culture. Every single man-made structure has, is, or will be subject to aging, preservation, defacing and/or destruction. The Communist government had defaced and demolished countless buildings during the Cultural Revolution, and the reasons behind each qiangchai, or forcibly demolished building, shows how the government has viewed the past achievements of China. More recently, the government has (at least) attempted to preserve and restore many of these buildings to their former glory. Villagers themselves have their own views on how the government has, in the past, clamped down on traditional cultural values and elements.

Where I Learned This From

I have, on several occassions, discussed the Cultural Revolution with my mother and the various policies and the profound effects it had on China as a whole. She had repeatedly mentioned how Mao's regime had destroyed and ransacked millions of cultural artifacts, buildings, and religious sites. I had also watched many documentaries on how the art of making traditional bows had almost been lost during that the upheaval of that time. On the brighter side, I have frequently heard of news that Chinese archaeologists have spent decades researching how to protect the grottoes in Ganshu, so perhaps the current government is serious about preserving the cultural heritage of this country.

What I Want to Know

I would want to research the extent of the damage done to Xizhou's buildings built according to tradition, and what opinions villagers may have on the destruction, and even if they still remember, way back when the buildings were defaced and/or destroyed. I think that I would focus my research on the cultural and historical view of demolition and preservation rather than the buildings themselves as Clara C. did in the past and seismic-proofing as Jeffrey Z. did earlier this year. I would also dig deeper into how the remaining structures are preserved and maybe have a chat with some of the people behind the preservation of these buildings. As for the destroyed buildings, I will try to find out when and why the were demolished and find out if some are being restored or already have been. Of course, I would love to know how, perhaps, traditional architectural elements are still an integral part of village life in Xizhou and how they are still being integrated into new buildings. However, I still find the historical part of it more interesting, so I may focus more on the damage done to the structures.

To find out a little more about what my topic is really about before getting started on my big questions, I did some background research that you can find here in Phase 3.

Big Questions (with possible answers)

Destruction & Defacing

1. Why have certain buildings been destroyed/defaced/demolished?

Religion was contrary to many of the socialist/communist/Marxist/Leninist values that Mao's regime adopted during the time, so many temples (especially Confucius) were destroyed/defaced/demolished. They also were campaigning for income redistribution, so maybe landowners' homes were defaced too.

2. Which buildings have been destroyed/defaced/demolished?

Religious, traditional (maybe a long stretch), landowners' homes.

3. Who may have orchestrated/done the damage?

Young people with ties to the Communist Party may have actually done the damage, perhaps as government officials looked on and maybe even with their endorsement. Maybe they were even rewarded for their actions. According to the Linden Centre, the Red Guard was also involved with the destruction of architecture, but was unable to destroy the interior of Yangjiayuan as security reasons prevented their entrance.

4. What do villagers remember about the damage done to the buildings?

Villagers may remember the chaos that ensued during the later stages of the Cultural Revolution, when much of this damage was done. They may also recall which weapons were used, and if it was openly done (with a large ceremony and the village looking on) or done secretly. They may even know which people were responsible for the damage and the reasons behind the damage.

5. What attitudes do villagers have about the damage?

Many of the villagers may not even remember much about it, and I guess that the older villagers may have been opposed to the destruction, but were too afraid to be vocal with their opinions.

6. Was the government possibly involved in any of this damage/destruction/defacing?

The government was definitely responsible for at least some of the damage. However, it may not be responsible for all of it, as China was particularly chaotic during the time.

7. What sorts of political and/or socio-economic factors played a role in the destruction of buildings?

The personality cult centered around Chairman Mao could explain a lot of it, and so could the vast inequality and corruption during past regimes have sewn seeds for massive public anger.

8. What are some reasons why people have destroyed buildings in the name of 'progress'?

People want modern facilities and larger homes, and businesses (hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, etc.) also like modern conveniences and larger spaces. Old architecture simply gets in the way of these wants.

9. What are some natural causes of the destruction of buildings?

Fire, earthquakes, and weather are probably very important factors.

10. Which of these (political, progress, natural) factors have had the greatest impact on buildings in Xizhou?

I think this differs from time to time; political destruction may have dominated during the early days of the People's Republic (until Mao's death), progress may have dominated during the Opening Up period from about the 70s through today, and natural factors have remained constant throughout the times.

Preservation & Restoration (no longer being researched)

7. What sort of techniques do scientists or the government use to preserve the architecture of Xizhou?

I think that a lot of preservation lies with education and the construction of new buildings. I think that the Linden Centre also plays a role with preserving traditional architecture, because I've heard that the Yangzhouran compound is more than a hundred years old. Other techniques may include simple spot repairs, renovation, and maybe even reconstruction. However, reconstruction would require a lot of government and public oversight as government builders are famous for causing massive damage to historical architecture.

8. What sort of laws protect such architecture? If so, are they effective in their role?

I think that the Law of the People's Republic of China on Protection of Cultural Relics applies here. I don't know about how effective it is, but it doesn't set out specific punishments or roles of specific government departments, so I have my doubts.

9. What difficulties does the government or do businesses, organizations, and individuals have with restoring and/or preserving architecture?

I read in an article by the Linden Centre that challenges include electrical capacity restrictions, cultural sensitivity (placement of rooms and directions), fire prevention, and local acceptance.

10. Why should the government, businesses, organizations, or individuals preserve or restore architecture?

I think that the government stands to benefit from providing its people with a deeper cultural understanding as architecture can show culture. Businesses may earn more revenue as tourists may be attracted to traditional architecture. Organizations and individuals can find out more about themselves as they explore China's history and beginnings through architecture.

Answers to these questions that I found during my stay in Xizhou can be found in Phase 3.

Digging Deeper

I think that I should explore more about the impacts of these events on villagers and their attitudes rather than the architecture itself. In addition, when focusing on preservation and restoration, I will concentrate on the benefits and actions the government/businesses/organizations/individuals can and do take. As I start looking toward Phase 2, I will be collecting resources and contacting experts in the field of Chinese architectural history and preservation.


I am fourteen years old and I was born in Mountain View, California but have since then moved to Shanghai in fourth grade. Xizhou was an awesome place to discover more about myself and the "real" China. I still miss the clean air, delicious food, and friendly people of Xizhou. All active and future Microcampus students can feel free to ask me for advice!